Five Features of Congregational Life
You might get spiritual development outside of congregations,
but you won't get these anywhere else
Will congregational life in faith communities -- or all but the most conservative and reactionary forms of it -- eventually pass from the earth? I don't know. People will always have in interest in their spiritual development, but perhaps they will go to spiritual counselors who set up shop the way that psycho-therapists do. Or perhaps they'll go to spirituality classes, set up like yoga classes, or to book clubs. TED Talks could entirely replace sermons. Certain bars where the patrons sing showtunes might take the place (kinda) of the hymn-singing experience. Who knows?
There are five features of congregational life that none of these other vehicles for delivering inspiration or cultivating spiritual maturation have. I think they're worth preserving, though I notice that our culture has been growing increasingly ambivalent about them -- which is why the religiously unaffiliated numbers have been growing as they have. All combined, these five indicate a way of life that I would be sorry to see go.
1. Self-governance. Involvement with committees; democratic participation in, and approval of, the budget process; worrying about policies, procedures, bylaws; creating and leading programs. For some folks, this is not hugely appealing, but there need to be spiritual communities run by the seekers themselves. I understand -- as do most UUs today -- that the activities of self-governance form an inseparable and integral part of our path of growth and deepening.
2. Group Identity and Belonging. While we UUs ourselves are sometimes exasperated with the level of tribalism in the religious scene today, there are, nevetheless, deep satisfactions from being members of the UU tribe. That group identity and belonging would be mostly lost without congregations. While some yoga students eventually come to have a sense of themselves as yogis, that's generally pretty thin soup as identities go. People going for counseling generally derive even less sense of identity from the particular school or methodology their counselor was trained in. “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Client” is not likely to become a significant part of anyone's proudly proclaimed identity nor will it evoke much sense of belonging.
3. Family membership. Adults and their children share in congregational life. The concept of family involvement in a faith institution -- belonging together as a family rather than as separate individuals -- is an integral feature of congregational life. You don't get that with a counselor or a yoga class.
4. Caring for each other. Call it shared pastoral ministry: the love and care that congregation members show to other members – building friendships in church, visiting each other for social occasions and when one of us is sick. That sort of thing isn’t always entirely absent from, say, a close-knit, long-time book club, or a group-counseling group, but it definitely recedes into comparative insignificance without congregations.
5. Social justice action as a faith community. As with self-governance, most UUs today understand that working with fellow congregants on justice projects is an essential part of our spiritual path.
These five features of congregational life all have unhealthy, insular, cult-ish forms -- which contributes to the turn-off that increasing numbers of people find the prospect of congregational membership to be. Yet these five, in healthy versions, are deeply enriching and essential components of a good life. The "spiritual but not religious" trend misses out on them.
In Case You Missed It . . .
Click the pic for Cindy Davidson's May 13 sermon: "Truths Be Told."
For video of a number of past sermons on our Youtube channel, CLICK HERE.
The Liberal Pulpit: New this week:
- The Convergence Theory of Truth (Truth? part 2)
- The Truthiness Abyss (Truth? part 3)
- Cultural Appropriation: Hard Cases (Reflection)
Index of other reflections: HERE.
Practice of the Week. Practice for Life is Practice for Death. Death is powerful, very immediate, and a great motivator. But if you wait till the time when death is close to begin your practice, it may well be too late. It is much better to spend time in your life working on your spiritual practice so at the time of death it will be there for you. With years of practice while you’re still more-or-less healthy, when you’re dying, instead of being subject to a mind full of confusion and dread, it will be possible for you to meditate on love and compassion. READ MORE
Your Moment of Zen. Winter set in firmly, and frequent snowstorms prevented the community from meeting. One day was unseasonably warm, however, and a few members gathered for a day of zazen. In the question period, Owl said, "Many folks aren't surviving the winter, and I think all of us are reminded that we won't be here long. I'm not sure what my question is, but..." Her voice trailed off. Raven said, "Maybe there isn't a question." Mole spoke up and said, "I think there is. There's a lot of suffering in this forest. Folks are dying...READ MORE
Zen at CUUC: Sat May 19
Minister's Tuesday Coffee Chat
May 22: CANCELLED. (I'll be out of town.)
May 29: Sunshine Coffee Roasters, 1932 Palmer Ave, Larchmont. (Adjacent to the Red Mango.)
Jun 5: Starbucks, 2 South Greeley Ave, Chappaqua
I'm at a coffee shop (almost) every Tuesday from 3-5pm. I invite you to drop by and chat.
HERE. Of particular note, regarding Centering: See recommended reading HERE On the Journey, May: Truth. HERE.